People living with diabetes could develop ‘severe’ COVID-19

18 June 2020 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Pexels. Read time 4 min.
UCT’s Assoc Prof Joel Dave said increasing evidence from SA indicates that PLWD and an elevated BMI are likely to develop a severe course of COVID-19.
UCT’s Assoc Prof Joel Dave said increasing evidence from SA indicates that PLWD and an elevated BMI are likely to develop a severe course of COVID-19.

Evidence slowly emerging in South Africa suggests that people living with diabetes (PLWD), as well as those with an elevated body mass index (BMI), are likely to experience a more “severe and complicated” course of COVID-19.

This according to Associate Professor Joel Dave, head of the Division of Endocrinology at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Department of Medicine.

Diabetes is said to be one of the leading comorbidities (the presence of one or more conditions occurring with a primary medical condition) of COVID-19, alongside an elevated BMI, hypertension and HIV.

UCT News caught up with Dave who unpacked this subject further.

Niémah Davids (ND): Are PLWD more at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection?

Joel Dave (JD): There is currently no evidence to suggest that PLWD or people with an elevated BMI are at greater risk of being infected with [severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus] SARS-CoV-2.

However, there is evidence from other countries and increasing evidence from South Africa indicating that, when infected with SARS CoV-2, PLWD and those with an elevated BMI are more likely to develop a severe and complicated form of COVID-19. 

The exact reason for this is not yet known. But it’s presumed to be because PLWD often have an elevated BMI, are older, have other associated comorbidities (such as hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease) and often have a dysfunctional immune system, placing them at risk of more severe infections.

ND: Are we seeing more PLWD admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in South Africa?

JD: Preliminary data from the Western Cape shows that PLWD who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to require admission to a hospital and to an intensive care unit. 

At least 30% of all [COVID-19] admissions in people over 50 years old are PLWD. In addition, this data also shows that 53% of people who die from COVID-19 are PLWD. The good news is that it appears that PLWD who have well-controlled diabetes suffer less severely with COVID-19 and are less at risk of death from COVID-19 than PLWD who have poorly controlled diabetes. It is therefore imperative that PLWD strive for good diabetes control.  

ND: How do you recommend PLWD and obesity, who also have COVID-19, manage the two?

JD: PLWD who have mild COVID-19 can usually be managed at home. It’s important that they continue their usual medication, but with more frequent monitoring of their finger prick blood glucose levels. By doing this, PLWD can ensure that their diabetes remains controlled. They should also adhere to the recommended lifestyle measures and activities that promote good diabetes control and weight loss, if required.

In addition, PLWD should maintain regular telephonic contact with their healthcare providers who will help adjust their medication if necessary and advise whether they need to seek further medical care.

PLWD who develop shortness of breath, vomiting or uncontrolled glucose levels should urgently contact their healthcare provider, as they will likely require admission to hospital.

ND: What are some of the precautionary measures PLWD can take against getting infected with SARS-CoV-2?

JD: Even though PLWD and those with an elevated BMI are not at greater risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, it is essential that they continue to self-isolate as much as is reasonably possible, especially if they are over 50 years old. If they do need to be exposed to other people, it is critical that they are meticulous with the recommended preventative measures, such as wearing masks, maintaining a two-metre social distance, practising frequent hand hygiene and not touching their faces. 

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March and implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.

Campus updates

  •  Information
  •  Normal
  •  Caution
  •  Alert

Daily updates

Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications

New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources

News and opinions

Statements and media releases

Media releases

Read more  

Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.